Sri Lanka has some of the purest cricket lovers and on this trip, as on many others, I have been invited to be part of a generous community. The talk these days though is of disappointment, which is not uncommon among passionate cricket lovers, but also of disillusionment with where the game is headed. I can understand the thought, even if I don’t buy into the gloom as much, but I wonder if Sri Lankan cricket is let down more beyond the boundary than within it.
I don’t follow regional politics but I can see that talent isn’t flowering in Sri Lanka. Peaks and troughs have less to do with actual talent than with the shaping of it and when you see ability stagnating, you get a clue to the prevailing atmosphere.
Lasith Malinga, more perceptive than most give him credit for, spoke of a lost generation. That can happen when a particularly glorious set of cricketers is around for a while and goes together. But those that needed to step up aren’t doing so. Players like Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera didn’t become the players they might have and I fear Angelo Mathews, as good as any from Sri Lanka, is allowing himself to get lost playing a bit part role in the middle-order, rather than a leading role further upfront. And soon, the umbrella of Rangana Herath and Lasith Malinga will be lost too.
But where there is a tradition of playing cricket, talent finds its way through and there is a lot in Sri Lanka, visible even during this distressing display. Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis, Akila Dananjaya, Milinda Siriwardana, Vishwa Fernando are as good as any. Nuwan Pradeep and Danushka Gunathilaka will be around for a while and in Lakshan Sandakan, Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera there is some serious ability.
The challenge is to get them to believe in themselves, go out in belief of victory rather than in fear of defeat. Already, Mendis is showing worrying signs, always apparent when only one or two performances get talked about, and Chameera has missed too much cricket.
Sri Lanka’s challenge going ahead is not as much in unearthing of talent as in determining what becomes of it. And while they do not always appreciate the attempts of their northern neighbours at playing big brother, there is a bit to be learnt there. India’s cricket administration has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately but the pipeline has continued to throw players and there is still robustness in the system. You can see that in the kind of players Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin, to name just three, have become in the last few years.
There is some serious investment being made in Lokesh Rahul and Hardik Pandya. The travails of the administration haven’t yet impacted the development of cricketers and that is something Sri Lanka can look at. And I say this not with a big-brotherly attitude but because I have loved watching the modest giants that have emerged from Sri Lanka.
What happens beyond the boundary will lay the foundation of what happens within it in the next few years.